While Independence is built on rich history and should remember and embrace that history, the city must continue to take big steps into the future, Mayor Eileen Weir says.
In delivering her state of the city address Tuesday evening at City House, home of Church of the Four Corners, Weir said the attributes that helped make Independence's history can continue to write the city's next chapters.
“Independence is unique in that our story is so deeply part of the American story,” Weir said, referring to the city's history with the trails being the hometown of a self-made man who became president. “We are a community that shows what a great American story means. Our history is a powerful chronicle of self-reliance, determination and fearlessness. Independence history is relevant today because we use it to create what the future should be.”
Weir pointed out to successes from the four main points that drive the strategic plan she's championed – provide excellent customer service, grow the economy, improve the safety and quality of the community, and do it in a fiscally responsible way with an eye to the future.
The first Citizens Academy provided good feedback – 24 people will be accepted from open enrollment for this year's academy, she said – and the city has tried to increase community engagement through public events and digital media.
While the city made software upgrades, Weir acknowledged, “To say the least, the transition to the new utility billing system did not go well and created a lot of frustration for some of our customers.” It will be something the city continues to monitor.
Raising the city's population to 120,000 and median income to $50,000 two years ahead of her state targets is worth celebrating, Weir said, and, “Sustaining this rate of growth will hinge on our continued efforts to develop the local workforce that is prepared for today’s in-demand careers.”
Two of 2018's biggest highlights included the Uptown Market, which in five months has hosted more than 40 events and 40 classes and programs and also allowed for a some winter farmers market days, and reducing violent crime by 37 percent in the Hawthorne Place Apartments complex.
“We can improve public safety with strong community commitment and strategic partnerships,” she said. “Nowhere has that been more evident than in the reduction of crime in the Hawthorne neighborhood over the past year.”
Also, in the first year of the city's rental inspection program, it licensed 925 more landlords, achieved more than 90 percent voluntary compliance from landlords and received zero complaints from tenants.
Among the big tasks Weir noted for moving forward:
• The Independence on a Roll working group, made of city officials and member of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Committee, is charged with pursuing the projects recommended by last year's citizen downtown redevelopment committee.
• Independence Police added five new officers to create a proactive street crimes unit, and the city is exploring a possible new justice center because of space needs, but full staffing would require 33 new officers and support staff, Weir said, at a cost of $3.5 million when right now there's not the necessary budget room.
• Continuing to work on IPL rates without sacrificing reliability or being green.
• Developing a plan to adequately maintain and enhance historic sites.
• Creating a master housing strategy and spurring more and better employment opportunities in the city.
“Quality housing will increase the number of jobs and residents in Independence,” Weir said, and right now less than 40 percent of employed citizens work in the city.
“What we reach for in 2019 and beyond will be driven by the citizens and what matters most deeply to them,” she said. “There are some tough decisions to be made in the coming year that will require candid community conversations to face the challenges that are preventing us from becoming the city we want to be.”